How strong is the Spanish military

Heavy legacy in Spain - Dark shadows of the Franco dictatorship

The messages in the scandalous chat group are sometimes so vulgar that one would rather not repeat them. But in addition to the content, it is precisely the tone that defines their brutality: "It seems to me that there is no other way out than to shoot these 26 million sons of bitches," was one of the messages sent from the cell phone of a retired divisional officer and have been circulating in the Spanish media for around two weeks.

The 26 million refer to those parts of the Spanish population that are assigned to the left camp.

Chat members are even calling for a coup

"You have to cut out the cancer," it continues. Unfortunately, history has to repeat itself. In other words: the Spanish civil war and the Franco dictatorship.

Another senior ex-military man describes how he would like to blow up the headquarters of a separatist Catalan organization. The possibility of a coup is also discussed, but rejected: A military coup would not be accepted in Spain or Europe at the moment, the chat members conclude.

Defense Minister takes the army in protection

When asked by journalists, the alleged participants react contradictingly: some deny having sent the news. Others speak of harmless jokes in private.

In the meantime, the group - which originally had around 40 members - has been dissolved. The case was handed over to the prosecutor's office by the Ministry of Defense. It is uncertain whether it will have any criminal consequences.

At the ministry's request from Radio SRF, the link opens in a new window with Defense Minister Margarita Robles, which was broadcast on the Spanish radio station “Cadena Ser”.

These statements are shameful, says the minister, "a shame for every democrat." But: They are in no way representative of the Spanish armed forces. The minister emphasized that these were former, retired military officers with outdated ideas. Today's Spanish army is modern.

It consists of 120,000 women and men who work professionally and selflessly for the Spanish population. Most of them are very young and may not even know exactly who Francisco Franco was.

Former army officer doubts

Marco Antonio Santos only has a tired laugh for it. “The minister is supposed to pay a visit to the barracks one day. Then she will hear what is being said there. " Santos served in the Spanish Army for 22 years.

He was released against his will last year. He had signed a manifest, Link opens in a new window, in which he explicitly distanced himself from Francoist ideas within the army. He was also critical of the Catholic Church and King Felipe, who is the commander in chief of the Spanish armed forces, on social media.

With such opinions, as a republican, atheist and democrat, you are clearly in the minority in the Spanish army, says Santos. And because of the fact that today they hardly know who Franco is anymore: until 2006 there was a statue of the dictator in the military academy in Saragossa, recalls Santos.

The Spanish army has a structural problem with right-wing extremism - and refuses to tackle it.

Not just a relic from the past

This is what Luis Gonzalo Segura also says. The former lieutenant was also discharged from the army in 2015. As a whistleblower, he had exposed a corruption scandal. He also got wind of the current scandal before the Spanish media: Several days before the first newspaper article appeared, Segura published excerpts from the chat on his Twitter account.

He does not accept the argument that these are retired, former military personnel, and also a relic from the past: “I have access to several such military group chats. And the same right-wing extremist tone prevails in all of them. "

In an interview with Radio SRF, Segura announced that he would soon publish messages from another chat. The explosive: This will not be news from former, but from active Spanish military.

And he refers to a video that has been circulating on social media for a few days: It is supposed to show current members of the Spanish armed forces singing the so-called “hymn of the Blue Division”.

The Blue Division was an infantry unit that consisted of Spanish volunteers and that supported the German Wehrmacht during World War II, i.e. fought side by side with the National Socialists. For Segura, this is further evidence that the Spanish army does not distance itself enough from its past and that fascist attitudes and convictions are still very present.

Nevertheless: One could dismiss the statements and revelations of Marco Antonio Santos and Luis Gonzalo Segura as the personal reckoning of two disappointed, dismissed ex-military men. Because there is no question about it: Spain is a modern democracy today. But it is anything but absurd that there are at least traces of this time to be found in the army, this main pillar of the Franco regime.

No reappraisal in the army

Numerous historians point out that after the death of Francisco Franco in 1975 there was never a break with the old system, no upheaval, but a continuous, step-by-step transition. For example, anyone who held a high post in the army during the dictatorship stayed in that post.

Ángel Viñas

Diplomat and historian

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Ángel Viñas was born in Madrid in 1941. He originally studied political economy in Hamburg, Berlin and Glasgow, but then turned primarily to historical research and peace and conflict studies. As early as his doctoral thesis he dealt with the role of Nazi Germany in the Spanish Civil War and has since written numerous books on recent Spanish history.

In the early 1970s Viñas worked at the Spanish embassy in Bonn, then advised several Spanish governments, worked for the International Monetary Fund and the EU Commission and finally became head of the EU delegation to the United Nations. Viñas has researched and taught at several universities in Spain and abroad and has been awarded numerous prizes for his work, including the Spanish Order of Civil Merit. Today he lives in Brussels with his wife - a former British diplomat.

One of these historians - and possibly the most renowned - is Ángel Viñas. The 79-year-old has advised several Spanish governments, filled high positions in the EU Commission and written books that fill entire shelves, most of them about Franco, the Spanish Civil War and the army. He was the first researcher to hold important historical documents from the Franco era in his hand.

There was never a clear, hard break with the Franco regime in the army.
Author: Ángel ViñasDiplomat and historian

And yet: Even he comments cautiously on the question of how much "Franquismo" is still in the Spanish army today. «It has been more than 40 years since the end of the dictatorship. One can assume that the basic democratic values ​​have also prevailed in the army, ”says Ángel Viñas. "But I'm not sure about that."

Viñas also emphasizes that the army was a central force - if not the central force - of the Franco dictatorship. And there was never a clear, hard break with the regime in the army. It has of course modernized and adapted, not least because of Spain's accession to NATO in 1982. However, recent events and revelations indicate that this reform process is at least not yet over.

In addition to the brutal messages from the group chat, several letters were also made public, also written by senior, former military officials. Two were addressed to the Spanish King, one to the President of the European Parliament. The undersigned warn that Spain is on the verge of disintegration. The left, "social-communist" government wants to ideologically indoctrinate the population. She posed a threat to the unity of Spain and was about to destroy the country.

Current government as an unprecedented provocation

This rhetoric is all too familiar to historian Ángel Viñas: “The exact same arguments were heard in 1936, before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. The warning calls of a red wave that threatens to roll over Spain and which only a man like Franco could stop. "

But why do you hear such statements now, of all times, louder and more open? Ángel Viñas sees several reasons for this: on the one hand, there is the left-wing government, which is relatively firmly in the saddle and which consists not only of the socialists, the big, traditional party on the left, but also of Podemos, the smaller, young party that is even further left stands.

And: The government is supported by the separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country. An unprecedented provocation for right-wing, conservative circles.

Open admiration for Franco

And then there is the countermovement: Vox. The far-right party, which in just two years has risen from marginalized to the third largest force in the national parliament. A party, according to Viñas, that has no qualms about showing its admiration for Francisco Franco publicly and making such positions socially acceptable again.

Vox is also closely linked to the Spanish army. Several Vox MPs in Parliament have a military background. This connection was even visible in the scandalous group chat.

Santiago Abascal, the Vox party leader, greeted the members of the chat in a personal voice message and sent them a "big hug".

From Ángel Viñas ’point of view, it is absolutely desirable that these opinions and connections come to light. Because they have always been there beneath the surface. What is needed in Spain is an in-depth, serious examination of these right-wing extremist currents and one's own history.